Maverick playwright Annie Baker's latest is a brilliant, funny, frustrating search for meaning.
Some of my favorite contemporary plays are about the power of storytelling, from the Shakespearean alt-history of “Equivocation” to the pop-culture riffage of “She Kill Monsters” and “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play.”
Add to this list “The Antipodes,” the latest work by MacArthur-certified genius Annie Baker — except that it is simultaneously, and paradoxically, also about the futility of stories.
It is a brilliant piece of writing, and difficult to reduce to an elevator pitch. But thank the muses that Phoenix has Stray Cat Theatre, the little indie troupe that has become, with stellar renditions of “John” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Flick,” Baker’s greatest champion outside New York.
...there’s just so much happening between the lines. Identity politics and the #MeToo movement are present, to take just one example, in the overwhelming white maleness of the room (there are not one but two Dannys, who both cringe when a roundtable about first sexual experiences gets its sole female perspective). Yet through all the complicated social subtext, and even with little to no backstory, each character emerges as an idiosyncratic individual, either brash or guarded or head-in-the-clouds, all with subtle notes to add to the broader theme.
This is a credit to director Ron May and his excellent cast, including Stray Cat regulars Louis Farber and Eric Zaklukiewicz playing to their respective types (charmingly bellicose and nervously earnest), as well as newcomers Dolores Mendoza and Shannon Phelps, who uses vocal fry to devastating comic effect as a perky assistant with more brains than she lets on.
...it’s a production worthy of one of the most challenging (some would say frustrating) playwrights of her generation.